Arrow – Season 6 Episode 16
“The Thanatos Guild”
Arrow returns to the well of League of Assassins storytelling while saying goodbye to a character present on the show since day one.
This episode is a difficult one to review as there is a lot happening. Thea’s departure is one of many things going on in this single episode creating an experiences that is as frustrating as it is meaningful. Giving Thea a send-off is the A-Plot at least but the overstuffed nature of the plot gets in the way of letting her departure sink in.
Right from the beginning this episode makes it clear that Thea is due to leave as it opens with a going away party celebrating her decision to set off for a “happily ever after” with Roy. The previous episode heavily suggested that this should be an option for her at Oliver’s suggestion and her decision to remove herself from a situation that routinely ends up with her life being in danger along with a constant procession of issues designed to cripple the mental state of the strongest people. Thea being done with all of this and wanting to set off to make a life for herself is perfectly valid and a good way to let the character leave the show.
With this being Arrow it can’t be as simple as that so it comes as no surprise when an offshoot of the League of Assassins loyal to the deceased Malcolm Merlin. They are after Thea because she is his heir and think she has access to a map showing the location of a powerful ancient secret that they want to get their hands on. Arrow has had issues playing around in the realm of the mystical before but as a MacGuffin hunt this works fairly well mostly because it is compared to Indiana Jones and has some fun with concealed traps in its action sequences.
One of the major issues here is that the titular Thanatos Guild have no weight behind them. They are an organisation that has appeared out of nowhere to present a specific complication at a specific time. The leader of this group, Athena (Kyra Zagorsky) isn’t threatening or interesting so fails to make an effective foil for anyone. There was the potential to have a great dynamic with Thea as it’s possible she may have worked hard to earn Malcolm’s trust and affection where Thea had that without even trying.
A lack of context means that Athena suffers as a character. This could have been fixed by using flashbacks. There is a flashback at the start of the episode taking the form of a John Barrowman cameo set at the end of season 2 when Thea agrees to learn from him. Flashbacks could have been used to establish Athena’s relationship with Malcolm setting up her connection to him and the reason for her unwavering loyalty. Obviously this might be possible if John Barrowman’s availability/desire to do it doesn’t allow but in an ideal world this would have been a better way of handling this character.
As such she is barely an obstacle and not really much of a match for Thea or the rest of Team Arrow. It undercuts the threat level when she is dealt with so easily and isn’t really feared when she isn’t on screen. Having her be part of the reason for Thea to change her plans doesn’t work because she doesn’t feel like a strong enough threat. Her character, the offshoot assassins and Thea’s place in all of this could all have been things the show built up over a period of time rather than throwing into a single episode.
Despite Thea’s departure being one of many things going on the episode still manages to get a number of strong moments in there. Any scene she shares with Oliver is dripping in emotion and well handled. Stephen Amell and Willa Holland have built up a strong sibling relationship since the show began meaning that their scenes together constantly feel effortless and believable. Oliver and Thea saying goodbye at the end of the episode is really well handled and offers a real sense of closure to Thea’s character after being on the show so long at least in terms of actor performances.
As I’ve said the departure feels like one of a range of things going on in this episodes which adds a rushed quality to it. This episode isn’t just about Thea leaving as it’s also about Malcolm Merlin’s legacy, a magical MacGuffin hunt, the rivalry between different factions spun out from the League of Assassins and the efforts of the other team to figure out the corruption of the police force.
Leaving the last part aside for now the return of Nyssa does allow these elements to come together in a way that could be considered cohesive. This only works because Nyssa is a familiar character and Katrina Law is so magnetic when she appears on screen. Her role in this episode can be best summed up as “clunky exposition”. Much of her dialogue is her telling people things and moving the plot forward by revealing information to let it do so.
She is a good source of deadpan comedy throughout the episode mostly when commenting on Oliver and Felicity’s marriage. Any opportunity is taken to remind both of them that her marriage to Oliver was technically never dissolved so now Oliver technically has two wives. He takes to calling Felicity “sister wife” and generally winds her up about it until eventually agreeing to free Oliver from the bond. It isn’t a source of conflict as such and only serves to make Felicity feel more uncomfortable but it does sprinkle some much needed levity throughout the episode.
Her views on honouring fathers do make for interesting contemplation as it adds a comparison between Oliver and Thea we’ve never really seen before. Nyssa sees Oliver as honouring his father’s legacy because he is actively motivated by writing his wrongs. She sees Thea as having the same responsibility as her father died saving her just as Oliver’s did so as far as she’s concerned the same sort of debt exists. Oliver points out that the major difference is that his father asked Oliver to make up for his wrongs where Malcolm didn’t so Thea doesn’t have any obligation to carry on in his honour. Even if he did ask then the choice would still belong to Thea because Oliver doesn’t believe that obligations belonging to one person should automatically fall to another. This is an indication of a cultural difference as the League of Assassins was founded on the notion of honour and legacy where the Queens were more about making their own choices. There is no oath or sense of duty in the Queen family but Nyssa’s mindset is very much dictated by that mindset and she doesn’t see how anyone couldn’t think along those lines.
It’s a debate that is over quickly because Thea does decide to follow in Malcolm’s footsteps though it isn’t out of any obligation to him and more to do with her own innate decency. She recognises that Nyssa has no support in her quest and is unlikely to succeed on her own when there is an entire organisation to contend with so opts to help her rather than letting her go off on a mission that will likely end in her depth. Added to that is her desire to remove Lazarus Pits from the face of the Earth following her own experience with one.
Roy is still around from the previous episode as the whole idea is for Thea to start a new life with him. It makes sense for Thea as Roy was the only man who ever made her truly happy so living out a happy life with him feels right for her. Roy’s presence isn’t really necessary as far as the episode treats him. He is part of it but doesn’t have a lot of impact on the plot nor does much of what we might identify with his character come into play.
His views on starting fresh are definitely interesting as he looks at it differently from Thea. She sees this as escaping something that causes her pain where Roy sees it as running towards their future. Thea does see Roy as her future but there’s no denying that she wants to get away from her life at least as much as she wants to start a new one. The scene where this is discussed is really well done showcasing the effortless chemistry between Colton Haynes and Willa Holland.
If Thea is to be gone at least for the time being then the show loses something significant. In more recent seasons she has become the voice of reason and source of advice showing wisdom beyond her years. In many ways she’s the beating heart of the show offering people reasonable advice whenever they needed it and forging unique relationships with every character. Her role has diminished somewhat of late with less episodes per season and her absence was felt in the episodes she didn’t appear so this could be a problem that the show never recovers from. In some ways it’s for the best as the writers have demonstrated that they don’t really know what they’re doing with her character so letting her leave on a high with scope for her return is definitely a good idea though her character deserved better than this episode.
Curtis and Dinah are still working on finding more information about Ricardo Diaz by trying to out the corruption within the police department. Dinah is on the scent of the new Captain who we already know is corrupt so the story is more about how well she covers her tracks. The mechanics of this plot are fairly dull but it does highlight how keen Dinah’s instincts are and how effective her and Curtis are as a team.
The plot might be very mechanical and uninteresting but from a character point of view it works really well. Curtis as Zoe’s temporary guardian is really endearing with a natural back and forth built up between them and his efforts to put himself back out there on the dating scene are endearing. The presence of officer Nick Anastas (Evan Broderick) does appear to be some really obvious signposting towards either tragedy or betrayal but it’s good to see Curtis progress as a character outside of being tech support or a vigilante.
Some attention is given to the side plots that aren’t picked up explicitly in this episode such as Evil Laurel living with Quentin which doesn’t get any more development than that and Diggle’s desire to be Green Arrow. Oliver and Diggle have a discussion about Diggle taking over as Green Arrow again. He makes it clear that he wants to reclaim the mantle and doesn’t want to let Oliver forget about it. Oliver’s justification for staying in costume is perfectly reasonable considering the team has been split apart and him stepping down would mean that Diggle is out on the field alone.
For now he feels that it makes more sense for them both to be in the field. It doesn’t seem that Diggle will accept this for long and Thea advises Oliver not to string him along if he has no intention of giving up the Green Arrow mantle. From Oliver’s point of view it’s easy to see why he would feel more at ease as the Green Arrow since William accepts him in that role now. This will likely come to a head sooner rather than later so it’ll be interesting to see if Diggle’s desire to be Green Arrow can make sense.
An uneven episode that does a lot of things well but takes some severe missteps mostly by overloading the story with too much plot. Thea’s departure feels like one of many things happening in the episode which means that it doesn’t appear to be the focus when it definitely should be. The scenes she has with the other characters and the goodbye she shares with Oliver are all great because the actors know how to play these characters and they completely sell the emotions attached to the parting but it still feels rushed. Roy’s presence feels almost pointless outside of a scene he shares with Thea outlining the differences in their approach to leaving which does him a disservice as well. Thea not being present in the show will definitely not be in its favour as her character has persistently elevated the episodes that she appears in.
Nyssa being around was good because she’s a familiar character but not enough is done with her other than dropping plot details here and there. Having her deadpan delivery creating humour when she was winding Felicity up about her marriage to Oliver was amusing and brought much needed levity to the episode. Her approach to legacy and duty when it comes to honouring family was an interesting discussion as well. Curtis and Dinah continue to prove how effectively they work together and their subplot allows Curtis to develop by taking control of his love life. This does feel like it is being set up for tragedy or betrayal but for now it’s good enough. Picking up side threads such as Diggle’s desire to be Green Arrow once again works well enough and creates some interesting debate around the situation as Oliver sees it. It’s clear that Diggle isn’t ready to accept it and it is bound to come to a head sooner or later.
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